By Carol Tannenhauser
You’ve probably seen the empty Citi Bike “docking stations” between West 59th street and West 86th street and wondered, “Where have all the bicycles gone?”
Gone to commuters (mostly) every one.
If you thought Citi Bikes were for tourists on weekend jaunts around Central Park, consider this:
“The system gets more usage on weekdays than on weekends, and if we look at trips by hour of the day, we can see that weekday riders primarily use Citi Bikes to commute to and from work, with peak hours from 8–9 AM and 5–7 PM,” wrote software engineer Todd Schneider, who examined usage data put out by Motivate, the company that owns Citi Bike.
But what happens from 9 to 5? Kay Sheehan, a retired occupational therapist, shared her experience – and frustration:
“I live near West 72nd street and CPW and have been using Citi Bikes since October 2015, just after docking stations moved into my neighborhood. I’m a serious user. My ‘statistics’ on the Citi Bike website reflect 317 trips and 402 miles since I became a member. For me, the bikes have replaced the subway and bus. I use them for errands, getting quickly to the East Side, going to events at City Center, Broadway theaters and Lincoln Center. I also volunteer for a variety of projects located all over the city through “NY Cares,” including taking Duncan, my cairn terrier, who is also a senior citizen, to do pet therapy visits at Mt. Sinai West – another reason why Citi Bikes are so welcome.
“I noticed a significant problem with availability on the UWS beginning in December and it continues to be a challenge as the bikes become more popular. Obviously waves of bikes head to midtown in the a.m. as people commute to work. That leaves no availability for those who would like to use the bikes for trips during the day. Lately I’m facing one empty docking station after another. I’m delighted that Citi Bike is an option for me, but I’m also angered that it is aggressively promoting new memberships when present members are not being served.”
Dani Simons, spokesperson for the Citi Bike program, acknowledged that “rebalancing is a constant challenge for bike-share programs.”
In March 2016, Citi Bike rebalanced 38,006 bicycles, averaging 1,226 bicycles moved each day. The total number of bikes in the Citi Bike fleet was 6,142. The total number of active docking stations was 429.
Schneider’s report, however, indicates that fewer bikes are being rebalanced, at least on a percentage basis. “From July 2013 through March 2015, around 13% of bikes were somehow transported from their drop-off stations to different stations before being ridden again. Since April 2015, though, that rate has decreased to about 4%.” Motivate declined to comment.
Why not add more bikes?
Simons referred us to the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT), which determines where Citi Bike stations go, for an answer.
DOT did not respond to our inquiry, nor to the question: Why not add more docking stations, especially on the UWS? Stations on the UWS are currently placed less densely – further apart – than those below 59th street. (See for yourself on the Citi Bike station map here.) This matters because, according to a study for the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), “station density is a key factor in whether a bike-share system will flourish or flop. In its analysis of bike-share systems across the U.S., NACTO found that stations that are close to other stations see more use [and] the accessibility of bike stations — and, crucially, accessibility by walking — is a primary determinant of their usefulness.”
Citi Bike “is trying to spread out bike-share stations too thinly, which threatens to impede the quality of bike-share service in the expansion zone, making it less reliable,” wrote Ben Fried, editor-in-chief of Streetsblog.
That means headaches for some commuters.
Joe Gall, a Citi Bike commuter who lives on the Upper West Side, said the density does seem too low, and can leave people feeling stuck “if you leave home too late in the morning or work in the evening.”
Attorney Craig Gold said “I think the best photo for this article may be one looking south down Columbus Avenue at the empty bike rack at W 72nd St, as that best sums up my experience most mornings!”
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Other interesting Citi Bike Facts
How Citibank got its name on the bikes:
“Citi’s original six-year contribution as the title sponsor will total $41 million, while MasterCard signed on for $6.5 million. Neither receive revenue from the system, but benefit from having their corporate logos on all 6,000 bikes, 332 docking stations and thousands of key fobs used by annual members. Citi recently renewed its sponsorship through 2024 to the tune of $110 million. The bank became the name sponsor after then-Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan reached out to Citi Vice President Ed Skyler, a former deputy mayor under Michael Bloomberg. — Crain’s
The vast majority of Citi Bike rides are taken by men.
“77.7 percent of member rides [in 2015] were taken by a man. The disparity between male and female usage grows to an 80:20 ratio, as women tend to ride Citi Bikes less in inclement weather. – NYU Rudin Center for Transportation
Safety Records Continue to Surprise, or, No One Killed Yet!
“…after more than five months and five million trips, none of the program’s riders have been killed on the bikes. About two dozen injuries, most of them minor, have been reported.” — The New York Times
“Against all odds – including novice riders, refusal to wear bike helmets and the daily crush of weaving, horn-blaring traffic – not a single rider in New York City’s bike share program has been killed since it launched in May 2013, a Citi Bike representative said.” — Reuters
“Still No Deaths on Citi Bike, 2.5 Years In. Bike sharing’s extraordinary safety streak shows how well the project has fit the city.” — Observer
Photo by Craig Gold.